A 20TH CENTURY MYTH by Dr. Jaafar Sheikh Idris One of the myths of our century, a myth that is believed by almost all atheists as well as many theists, is that rationality and science are on the side of unbelief. As a corollary of this myth, unbelief is taken to be the normal position, the position that demands no mental effort because it needs no justification. It is the believer who is taken to task, who is required to justify his position and who is therefore on the defensive. But why is this unbelief taken to be normal? Because, I think, it is wrongly thought that while the believer in God is making a positive claim, the unbeliever, as the name indicates, is only denying that the believer has any evidence to support his claim. The two positions are therefore mistakenly likened to those, say, of accuser and accused. The latter does not have to prove that he is innocent, since he is assumed to be so until the contrary is proven by the former. This picture is misleading because in it only one of the parties, the accuser, has a problem that he wants to resolve. The accused has no problem, and is therefore making no claim or even if he has one, it is different from that of the accuser. A better comparison to the position of the believer and the unbeliever would be that of two politicians or economists, A and B, arguing about inflation, a problem that affects them both. A suggests that the cause of inflation is the sudden and tremendous increase in oil prices and therefore, it can only be arrested by such-and-such measures. The other, B, denies that this is the cause. He sees no causal link between the two phenomena, and has not been helped by A to see one. We may sympathize with B, but we would certainly not think that he had done his job merely by rejecting A's analysis. Why? Because inflation is a serious problem that affects all of us and we consider that those who conduct our affairs have a responsibility to look for its cause and to seek a solution to it. Thus, the position of the believer is not like that of the accuser, because the problem, whose solution he is seeking by claiming that the world has a creator, does not concern him alone. Like inflation, it affects both the one who advances a solution to it and the one who rejects that solution. THE PROBLEM What is this problem? Essentially it is expressed in the question, “Where did we come from?” There are other related issues but let us first examine this central question. The unbeliever reacts to this question in one of three ways, all of which are irrational and unscientific. Hence his claim that science and rationality are on his side are unfounded. He may say: “I neither know nor care. All that I know is that I am here and that I am free to decide for myself what role to play. And this I am going to do.” “I neither know...” To admit one's ignorance is surely a mark of rationality and is in the spirit of science. But what about “nor do I care?” The non-believer is not here dismissing the possibility of there being a creator who assigned for man a role to play in this world, and who would therefore hold him accountable for his deeds in a life to come. Does he really mean that it does not matter or that it would make no difference to him whether this were true or not? This is clearly not rational, because it surely does make a difference whether a person goes to heaven or hell. Turning away from a fact does not make it disappear. Years of indulgence in the pleasures of this life would hardly make up for punishment in the life to come. A second response the unbeliever might make would be to say: “We could have come from nothing.” To this our question would be: Are you saying that this is only a possibility, as your statements indicate, or are you affirming that we did come from nothing? If you say that this is only possible, then you are not ruling out the possibility of our having been created. Given this possibility, and considering the gravity of the problem, you would try to make up your mind which of the two possible alternatives seems to you to be the more likely and reasonable. If, however, you are claiming that the world really did come from nothing, then we put the following points before you and require you to consider them carefully: FIRSTLY, how do you know this? SECONDLY, do you have any evidence? As far we can see, you have produced none. Without evidence, is it either rational or scientific to opt for the view that anything like ourselves that is not eternal can be caused by or produced from nothing? Isn't it a scientific principle, I am not saying a scientific fact, as well as a principle of ordinary life, that every event has a cause and hence that nothing comes out of nothing? If so, then why do you deceive yourself into thinking that your position is the more rational and the more scientific one? Having realized the irrationality of these two responses, the unbeliever might now choose the only alternative that is left to him if he insists on continuing in his unbelief. He will now admit that it is more reasonable to believe that there is a cause. But since he rejects the idea of a transcendent creator he will maintain that this cause must be inside the world. THE SEARCH FOR THE CAUSE What can that cause be? It is sometimes taken to be an object in this earth, an idol, an animal or a human being. Since the foolishness of such a belief is now clear, we should not allow it to detain us. I have only mentioned it to draw attention to the fact that idol worship and belief in magic belong to the history of unbelief, and not to that of true religion, which advocates belief in a transcendent creator. Seeing that a perishable object or person could not be a creator, some unbelievers thought that the heavenly bodies, which for them seemed to be eternal, were more worthy of such a role, and thus worshipped them. But science has proved that none of these celestial bodies are eternal. The believers' claim that they cannot be gods is thus vindicated. Having despaired of finding their creator in the larger physical bodies, and having been told that these are, in fact, built up of smaller units, the unbelievers now turned in another direction and began to look for the ultimate and eternal building unit of which everything we know is made. This, they felt, would explain everything and thus render the idea of a transcendent god otiose. But these eternal building blocks have turned out to be will-o-the-wisps. It is not the mixtures and compounds, but the elements of which they are made. And it is not even these, because they in their turn are made of molecules which are made of atoms. Atoms are made up of subatomic particles. Could these be what we are looking for? But these are not solid material things. They are strange creatures that change their mass whenever they move. Moreover these tiny things' cannot be directly observed. Their existence is deduced only from their behavior. THE ETERNAL CREATOR One of the basic arguments raised by earlier unbelievers against there being a transcendent god, was that he could not be seen. It was no use telling them that as rational beings they did not have to see to believe; that they could also believe in something whose existence could be deduced from what they observed. Science has again vindicated the believers’ argument, since this method of deduction turns out to be the only way we know about subatomic particles, the phenomena that unbelievers wish to see as the ultimate cause or creator. But this they cannot do. The creator, or if you like, ultimate cause we are looking for must be eternal, i.e., it must have no beginning. If a thing is eternal in the sense of having no beginning then it must be self-sufficient, i.e. logically it cannot depend for its existence or continuance on anything outside itself. But if this is so then it will not perish. Which means that nothing that perishes or is perishable can be eternal. All forms of matter, even the subatomic particles are perishable. And since matter in every form is necessarily affected by other forms of matter, then matter in any form cannot be eternal. The unbeliever cannot therefore console himself by putting his faith in the progress of science to discover a solution to the problem of creation. Science cannot do for them what is logically impossible. THE NATURAL SOLUTION Some unbelievers say: “Why look for the eternal? If what we want is an explanation of the finite things of which our world is made up, then this can be obtained without recourse to a belief in an eternal creator. If I want to explain how A came to be, I look for its natural and finite cause, B; and if asked about B, I look for C and so on. The series of effect-cause need not terminate in an ultimate cause but can be infinite.” To demonstrate how untenable this position is, let us take the example of a dictator who hears that a derogatory rumor about him is being spread and orders his secret police to discover its source. Devoted to their master, the secret police start interrogating suspects. A tells them that he heard it from B, who in turn tells them that he heard it from C, who heard it from D and so on. If we assume this series of hearer-relater to be infinite, it would not explain the ultimate and real source of the rumor, which can only be someone who invented it and had not heard it from someone else. The rumor, therefore, clearly had a creator: the chain is not infinite. The fact of coming-into-being cannot be explained by something which has itself come to be. It can be explained only by something which causes others to be but is not itself caused to be. THE ULTIMATE CAUSE So much for the irrationality and unscientific attitude of the unbeliever towards the question: where do we come from? The position of the believer, on the other hand, is based on reason and is not contradicted by science. He says that, since perishable things cannot come from nothing, nor be caused by other perishable things, they must be caused by something that is eternal and is therefore self-sufficient. And since it is eternal and therefore infinite, all its attributes must be infinite. How does this eternal cause bring about its effect - i.e., the things of this world? Things are produced by others in two ways. Either they follow naturally from them, or, they are intentionally made by them. All natural causes produce their effects in the former way, while rational beings have the ability to do the latter. Thus fire does not intentionally boil water, the boiling is a natural result of the water container being exposed to heat. But a housewife makes tea intentionally. There is nothing in her nature as a result of which tea is naturally produced, so she can choose whether or not to do so. A natural effect does not depend solely on what we normally call its cause. Its happening is conditional upon many other factors. For example, for water to boil it is not enough that there should be heat. The water must be put in a container which must be brought near the heat, there must be oxygen, etc. Our eternal cause, on the other hand, is by definition self-sufficient and thus depends for its action on no factors external to itself. If this is so, then it does not act in the way natural causes act; thus it must act with intention. Since a thing that acts with intention must also act knowingly and must therefore be a living being and not an inanimate thing, the true creator of whatever exists in the world must possess these attributes, as well as others that can be deduced in the same manner. This is what unbiased reason tells us. And what it tells us is confirmed and elaborated and brought to completion by what the Creator Himself tells us in what He reveals to His prophets. A person's answers to the questions, “Why are we here? and “Where do we go from here?” are bound to depend on his answer to the basic question: “Where do we come from?” And because the unbeliever fails to give a satisfactory answer to the basic question his answers to the others are doomed to be unsatisfactory, both rationally and psychologically.